Noise - Darin Bradley

CHAPTER ONE

we got the jump because we lived near the square. Walking distance. Slade was like most small Texas towns—it radiated outward from the old courthouse. At some point, someone had paved the original hitching yards and erected a cenotaph for the Civil War dead. There were water fountains on each pillar, each with its own inscription: WHITE. COLORED. They both still worked. There were pecan trees with dubious histories.

Livery posts, hardware stores, and hotels had clustered slowly around the squared avenue—the buildings still stared at the courthouse-turned-museum, the remnants of their painted-brick signs now protected by city codes. Those businesses were all something else now—candy shops, bars, high-end boutiques. But they had several signs each. Meyer’s Pawn was the most important to us. Guitars and drum sets and stereos filled its storefront windows—the ejecta of the nearby university. Its bread-and-butter music program, mostly. Slade still lived because the university owned most of it. Sweet Pine, Siwash, and Minnie Falls, all nearby, had dried up when they were supposed to, half a century before. When Slade should’ve gone.

But we didn’t care about instruments. Meyer’s had tools, too.

We got the jump. We’d been watching Salvage for months, so we knew what to do.

We knew enough.

After television broadcasts went fully digital, people began to Salvage the analog waves. The low-end frequencies the FCC didn’t sell off or restrict for their Nationwide Public Safety Network. Which was just for first responders, emergency personnel. The police.

At first, the public air was monitored, regulated in a dying-grandfather sort of way. Special needs. Suicide watch. The FCC called it the Citizens’ Television Band.

In the early days, ’casts were still pirate. It took a year or so before the waves went Salvage, and you could do whatever you wanted with a broadcast antenna and a video phone. It was shortwave television. Narrow-band. Retro-hip all the way from the mechanical TVs of the Great Depression.

Modders stopped retooling old eight-bit video game consoles and mini fridges and started finding ways to improve the Salvage band. We were lucky—we didn’t have to mod anything to tune in. My father’s old garage TV never stopped working. Black-and-white. Eight-inch screen. It doubled as a radio.

Slade had more Salvage than most cities around it. It had college kids with plenty of money, plenty of equipment, and plenty of paranoia. They’d all been raised by the American Dream. Their teachers had told them they’d be astronauts and presidents and famous actors. They were middle class, mostly white, in a public education system that might as well have been private—they didn’t know then how the property taxes on their parents’ multistory homes determined their share of “equal education for all.” They’d followed the rules, earned the grades, dreamed big and endless. And then in Slade, people handed them beer and hash pipes, had sex with them, told them it was all right not to know what the hell was going on. They Grouped themselves without knowing it—a hive-mind that kept them from being alone, that told them the bottom was about to fall out of everything they’d ever been told. Told them to expect it, to get ready. To learn about Salvage. To trust no one.

Even with all their money—all their equipment—it was the paranoia that served them best.

Some days, the Salvage was too thick—the anxiety, the hurriedly wired amps throbbing more power into each ’cast. Every panicked ’caster doing his best to get his truth through all the others’. They ended up jamming one another, like Cold War cryptographers. Numbers and catchphrases and cardinal directions squealed in and out of one another on the bad